Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pinoy Boy Journals 2013 Trips

This is one ultimate throwback post, i swear. The very fact that i am writing a summary of the places I've visited in 2013 (err, two years ago) proves it so. I am quite disappointed that i was too overwhelmed with these trips that i somehow lost time to write about them. I was also busy with my advertising stint, and so on and so forth. And so, i will try very hard to recall the places, the people, the moments, and yes... even the food so i can share them all with you. Memories last forever!


Daraga Church, Albay, Philippines
Legend says that if you visit the province, and don't have a clear view of the perfect cone Mayon Volcano, then you're not a virgin anymore. Of course, i am not. Are you kiddin' me? I am turning 32 in a few months. Believe me how much i tried to capture that glorious moment. I came to all the best viewing spots, and at the best times of a day (sunrise and sunset) for a few days but i was still unlucky. To be honest, I was disappointed, and emotional during this trip. But with or without the view, the province still holds a special place in my heart. It is here that i realized how faith can totally change a person's perspective of life. The people of Albay are religious and prayerful. I've become witness to too many daily masses, and on all occasions, the church is full of people. And this aspiration reflects on the kind of people you will meet when you visit the faithful province of Albay. 


Paguriran Island, Sorsogon, Philippines
Sorsogon is really one of the most blessed provinces in the Philippines. My first trip in 2011 was for keeps. After visiting Subic Beach in Matnog, i knew there would be more places around as enchanting as the pink sand beach. I got so excited to explore the different towns and municipalities because only then can you really grasp the ultimate experience of immersing yourself in the local culture. I've been to almost every town, from Bacon to Prieto Diaz. And right here in Paguriran Island, in one of my stops, i simply let destiny play its part. The afternoon i spent here was truly memorable. Apart from the horror stories of decapitated priests and crying white ladies, the mystery of the shallow-deep beaches, the true fame of Sorsogon is actually the simplicity of life here. I was drinking my warm beer, with a couple of tired fishermen, in a wharf, overlooking untouched mangroves and the famed Paguriran Island while listening to endless crows of roosters at four o'clock in the afternoon. Priceless! 


Surigao Straight, Surigao Del Norte, Philippines
When you're traveling around the Philippines as a tourist, expect to receive a couple of glances from the local people. Oftentimes, people would start talking about you. You could hear them as you pass by. Luckily, i blended in with everyone seamlessly. Exploring Surigao Del Norte was like a home coming to me. I never caused anyone confusion, and i was sifting through places and homes like i was from there. My trip to this province may be short-lived but the treasures of beautiful Surigao were enough to keep me company in my day dreams up until now. The city may be bustling, but the pulse is slow here. It's just the way i envisioned it to be. It is just the way i like it.


Cabil-an Group of Islands, Dinagat Island, Philippines
I’ve been to many places but I can honestly say that Dinagat Islands is by far, the most exotic province I’ve ever been to. Spending an afternoon in the far out Cabil-an Group of Islands was an unforgettable experience, one that I could tell my children and my children’s children. Suddenly, the two plane rides, one ferry boat ride, two motorcycle rides and a small wooden canoe ride was well worth it. The country’s newest province just reinforced my reason why I travel solo in the first place. 


Zongxiao, Taipei, Taiwan
It is true that Taiwan is probably one of the most underrated countries in Asia. I got so attached during my first visit and loved it instantly, that a few years after in 2013, i roamed around Taipei once more. After visiting Taroko Gorge, i got to sample the finest views of Sun Moon Lake and even overcome my fear riding the out of this world rides at Formosan Aboriginal Village. Stepping outside of my comfort zone, i ate as many noodles and poultry at a buffet that's worth every Taiwan dollar spent. The cool winter mornings were enough to give me a lasting impression and watching the youth of Taiwan sport the most inspiring street fashion was enough reason for me to click my camera non-stop. Of course, this visit will not be the last time.


Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
It's fun to take your friends out to your second home. At our annual company outing, i was able to tag my best colleagues to a night out in Khao San. They've never been there, and i promised them a good time. We went back to the hotel just before sunrise. The next day, we were all nursing a hang-over while trying not to faint at the temple tour of Bangkok. This particular trip was not about visiting new places, but revisiting old places with new friends. There's a difference, you know.


Calaguas Island, Camarines Norte
I'd like to confess that i never wanted to visit Calaguas Island with a company of strangers. But due to budget constraints, hiring a big boat for myself, would cost me a plane ticket outside the country. And so, i decided to eat my pride and just explore the island. Little did i know, that i would make friends during the trip. The fantastic beach of Calaguas was a given. It's pure unadulterated strip of white sand in an island so far from the town. With no electricity and minimal supplies, i managed to survive one night in my camp. Surprisingly, Calaguas Island is one of those destinations that's best to be traveled with friends. This post is dedicated to Ejay, whom i met during the trip. Brother, you will be missed.  

Mai Chau, Hanoi, Vietnam
My first time in Vietnam was in Saigon, and a bit disappointing i must say. However, my trip to Hanoi was totally shining. I loved the cool weather, and the historical places of the old district. I loved the food, and the generous people. I actually got surprised that my physical appearance was something the locals loved. I even visited a university through an invite by a local at a restaurant i was eating. There, i got even more admirers. It was totally weird. What's even weirder is that i gave a thumps down to Halong Bay because i didn't want to visit a destination with too many people. When i heard the travel agent say "Popular", i already knew how it would be. Instead, i booked a trip to Mai Chau. There i was, taking things slow in a bicycle overlooking green paddies and the local farmers. I've sampled traditional cuisine and bought too many fabrics at a local market, all by myself.


Baguio City, Benguet, Philippines
I wasn't suppose to go to Baguio. I didn't even prepare warm clothes for the trip. I got to the bus terminal, and discovered that the bus doesn't leave in five hours. I decided to make a detour just so i can peacefully leave Manila and unto my destination. The detour was Baguio. I arrived at wee hours of the morning. Still with enough time before my transfer, i managed to hitch on a Tamaraw FX to take me around the best spots of the city. There were gardens, viewpoints, and even more view points. But what captured my interest was the famed museum. It is here that i got a closer look at the local art scene. It's raw and magical. 


Luna Watch Tower, La Union, Philippines
It was a bummer that i visited this seaside province during summer, because the waves were small. But i wasn't too sad because i don't surf anyway. ha. What i did was i explored more towns north of San Juan and came across this historical site, by the beach. What was left of the ruins of Luna Tower was unbelievable. There's more places like these. The only problem for me was the lack of time. 


Obando Church, Bulacan, Philippines
It was a tough call to visit Bulacan during the fertility rites. There were hundreds upon hundreds of devotees lined up to get inside the church, and participated in the dancing ceremony. The traffic was awful, and the crowd was thick. However, the vibe was joyous with hopefuls marching the facade of the church glimmering in attractive wares dancing to patrons with the hopes of having a baby. This is the very reason why i came here in the first place, not because i was also asking for a newborn. I went to Obando to pray that these people's wishes will eventually come true. 


Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore
After years of keeping up with my budget, i totally spoil myself once in a while. Getting a room to sleep in for a couple of days at the famed hotel burned my cash in an instant but the unexplained joy of getting your money's worth was definitely worth it. On some days, i would roam around the small country, and the city. I got to try ice cream buns and hot pot noodles. I chanced upon huge discounts at the mall, and even bar hopped in posh restaurants. At night, i would go back to my room where the experience of staying in one of the best hotels in the world was an adventure in itself. Here, i sample the outdoor pool perched hundreds of floors up. I was trying my best not to move, the wind was too strong.


Cagayan De Oro, Misamis Oriental, Philippines
I sat next to this kid who was all alone traveling from one island to the next. Earlier, i sat next to a man on the bus, the same man beside the kid. In this province, it seems people wind up doing the same thing. The difference is, i was not from here and just visiting. CDO is in the lower ranking of must visit places in the Philippines. Apart from white water rafting, not much has been said about this place. I regret to inform the haters that Misamis Oriental is too beautiful for you. It's a totally generic destination in the Philippines: quiet, conservative and unbelievably beautiful. As i write this, i am booking a trip back in a couple of weeks.


Mambajao, Camiguin, Philippines
Suggest another word for exotic, that is Camiguin. My adventure to this tiny island off the coast of Mindanao Sea is on a totally different level. Here, i got to ride a fast boat too many times, i got to swim with live and gigantic corals and clam shells, i got to feast on fresh seafood straight from the fisherman's harvest. I walked up on countless number of stores, seeing the same Vino Kulafu drink which you can never find elsewhere. The local people here are the most honest people I've met in all of my travels in the Philippines. If you want to experience genuine kindness and hospitality, Camiguin is the place to be. 


Panikian Island, Zamboanga Del Sur, Philippines
Although it'll be hard to convince me to go back to this province, the unspoilt Panikian Island is one of the most beautiful islands i have ever visited. I was able to circle around the island in a couple of hours without a single soul in sight except for my boatman. I braved the torrential rains and lack of sea visibility because i will not forgive myself if i have not gone. And so, i opened my rhum and poured my cola in a silver glass my boatman lent me. We threw the first pour for the devil, and drank away. I came back a little past six o'clock and was helping my fellow turned best friend push the boat to shore. It was friggin' low tide already. 


Great Sta. Cruz Island, Zamboanga City, Philippines
There were dozens of ambulances, armored cars, and hundreds of military police marching across the municipal hall. I paid the fast boat to the popular pink sand island of Sta. Cruz. From hereon, i was escorted by three military men in full combat gear. Parked in our boat were machine guns, explosives and dozens of grenades. I arrived and left the island safely. It was indeed pink sand when i stepped out of my boat. My body guard was signaling i was going too far and that i must come back. We shared canned spanish sardines and rice, while trying my best to overcome my fear. I will never go back again.  


Butuan City, Agusan Del Norte, Philippines
For the nth time, let's get the history straight. Did Magellan really arrive in Butuan City first before Cebu City? But amidst the confusion about the city's history, Butuan was another adventure to be taken. Here, i met our helper's mother. She even offered me a ride to town. I waited for another Lolong (the largest crocodile ever found on earth) but didn't see one. I was totally unsure if i ever want to see one, anyway. I like the city here. It's urbanized but the mindset of people are still from ages ago. Although, i argued with my tricycle driver for a miss communication deal, let it be known that i wanted to share the knowledge of being right versus being kind. 


San Francisco, Agusan Del Sur, Philippines
As i try to spend an afternoon roaming around the quaint province of Agusan Del Sur, i teamed up with my tricycle driver who promised to take me to the most beautiful places. We were able to stop by the beautiful municipal hall of San Fran, as locals call it. I stopped by for lunch in one of the small shopping centers littered across town. There were quite a handful of unexplored caves and rivers. But the best part, my driver brought me to the newest attraction of the province -- the newly opened grocery store. There i was, smiling inside and out. Even if Agusan Del Sur lacks natural wonders, the people are packed with awesome humor. 


Britannia Group of Islands, Surigao Del Sur, Philippines
It's off beaten, and truly untouched. The province of Surigao Del Sur is like stepping into another dimension in Mindanao. Here, everything's peaceful. The people are calm, the surroundings are noncommercial, and nights are quiet. The next day, i woke up to a bright and shining day, where i could see from a distance islands cut like diamonds in the sea. The days after, i got to visit an enchanted river, ultra wide falls, and even tasted the popular delicacy, Mutya ng Bislig. Upon reading about Surigao Del Sur, i knew already what to expect. Little did i know, it was more than what i bargained for. 


Padre Burgos, Southern Leyte, Philippines
The weather was bad. The past few days have been cloudy. My dream of visiting Limasawa did not push through. With that, i spent the rest of my time lounging in the fine white pocket of sandy beach just outside my hotel room. Earlier that day, i was warned by the locals not to go to the town proper outside the ferry terminal. Talks of a naked man with a bolo have been circulating. That night, i couldn't find a place to eat dinner. I got canned beef and ordered hot rice. I watched the streets from my balcony. There was no one. I guess Padre Burgos must be guarding me that night.  


Naval, Biliran, Philippines
Arriving in Biliran was an exciting journey for me. I didn't know anyone from the province. Let alone, i have no accommodations in mind. When i got there, i toploaded a jeepney and arrived at my destination. Being the only guest in the resort, all attention was given to me. There were a lot of day tripping couples which made me miss having someone to hold hands with. That night, the power was out. I slept at 8PM and woke up at 3AM. Life in Biliran is simple. The next day, i went to see waterfalls, tasted fresh sweet water from the tree, and navigated my way with my habal-habal driver to the forest. The room key is still with me because i totally forgot returing it. Maybe it was a sign that i will be coming back there anyway.


Banaue Rice Terraces, Ifugao, Philippines
It's good to read about the eight wonder of the world. But it's a totally different feeling when you're there a few meters away. What's even more joyful is stepping on the banks of the terraces to save your life. I went there on a spree, and emerald green paddies astounded me like no other. The stories of it are true. There's nothing like this set of rice terraces anywhere in the world. I ate in front of the terraces, i slept in front of the terraces and i even had a shower with a view of the terraces. 


Kiltepan View Point, Mountain Province, Philippines
Before the place was swept by lost lovers, Kiltepan didn't see that many tourists. People are too lazy to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to catch the first sunlight in the mountains. But i wanted to see the view for myself. Armed with warm clothing and headlights, i braved the terrain to watch in glory the first morning of the rest of my life. It is magical, unforgettable and truly world class.


Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, Philippines
A lot of my peers questioned my interest for the province. But as any true solider of adventure would do, i reckoned i needed to see the the place first before passing judgement. Although i must admit, it lacks the exciting aura of some other provinces. The history of the province was something you can never deny. The list of American soldiers in memorial and the quiet feeling to it as i pray for the souls of those who perished was an emotional time for me. Later that day, i watched the sunset over the beautiful Dalton Pass. There, i waited for the clouds to subside. A few hours later, i was still waiting for a bus passing by. There was none. Oh shit!


Bayombong, Nueva Vizaya, Philippines
Manong Bonny has been my guide, friend and driver roaming around the huge province of Nueva Vizcaya for days. He took me to all the best spots in the capital Bayombong, towards to Dupax Del Sur and even to the border crossing of the Cagayan River. It was hard for me to get in touch with him because he doesn't have a cellphone. I met up with his daughter in Manila and gave him my present. From hereon, he can take more people to see the best of Nueva Vizcaya, thus sharing more joy to more people.


Governor's Rapids, Quirino, Philippines
Please make this place a natural heritage site. It's unspoiled, off the beaten and truly out of this world. They say a lot of people from the mountains roam in the strip of province. I haven't met one. Or if ever i did, they would not introduce themselves to me. Quirino is one of the friendliest provinces i have ever visited in the Philippines. The sound of crashing waves at Governor's Rapids was deafening. The ride going there was heart stopping. I ended my visit the following day at the highway facing the mountain and rice paddies. There, the sunset beaming over me. I will never forget Quirino. 


Santiago, Isabela, Philippines
It was the night before the elections in the province, i was advised to stay indoors should mishaps happen. Isabela is big in size and big in attractions. If only i had the time, i would have given the other side a look. Famed for isolated islands and mountainous areas, Isabela is a hub for anything extreme. Although getting a seat on a bus was a bummer, i managed like a scout and tried to hold on to the railings as the bus zig zags from corner to corner. When i arrived in there, the people greeted me like family. 


Guian, Eastern Samar, Philippines
This province is charming and beautiful. I never thought that its pint size is packed with too many beautiful and wonderful things in it. The resort where i stayed in is the barrier towards pacific ocean, and the crashing waves could be heard from my air-conditioned bedroom. It was that strong. The next few days, i got to visit small fishing villages, more white sandy beaches, saw stronger waves over the pacific, and prayed to the miraculous Virgin Mary for a wish i'd like to keep to myself. 


San Juanico Bridge, Leyte, Philippines
Take my advice. When you're exploring this side of the Visayas, base yourself in Tacloban where transportation is great. It's my third time in the province and up until now i am not decided whether i like it or not. It's commercialized but lacks urban planning. I was in the city when the earthquake shook Bohol, and intensity was felt from my bed. I went outside of McArthur's popular hotel with just my boxer shorts and prayed for the quake to stop. Little did i know, a week after typhoon Haiyan was approaching this blessed province. 


Marabut, Samar, Philippines
It seems the discovery of exotic locales in the Philippines never stops. Stopping by in Marabut was one of the best decisions of my life. I drank my favorite beer by the beach, overlooking a dozen limestone cliffs and watched sunset. That night, i got to enjoy the pool. I woke up the next day feeling like a free bird. Life is good here. 


Trese Martires, Cavite, Philippines
Oh Cavite, the home of the beautiful people. I tagged along with my father as he went to work in Dasmarinas which gave me ample time to explore the different cities of Cavite. Here in Trese Martires, i find solitude in the beautiful municipal hall. Directly in front of it is the old house where Andres Bonifacio used to live. Beside it are a couple of houses dating back a hundred years old. While it's true that Cavite is big on history, during my public transportation rides, i noticed the province is big on beautiful people, too. 

2013 is indeed my most traveled year to date. And none of these trips would be possible without the unfathomable help of my family, especially my parents, who continuously support my love for discovery and exploration.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Travel Notes from Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam


Today was the hottest day of my entire life. I could not imagine how I survived in such an unbelievable day when the temperature skyrocketed to almost 40 degrees Celsius. And i thought the Philippines was undeniably warm. To tell you honestly, the only thing that kept me going was the reason to discover Brunei, my 20th country in Asia.

I arrived the night before at Bandar Seri Begawan International Airport, with just my backpack and my treasured wooden box i bought in Thamel, Kathmandu. The rest of my luggage was tagged direct to Manila. I reckon this was a really good idea so i don't have to worry about carrying with me three huge bags in my escapade to Brunei. Later on i would realize, this was a big mistake. 

I've heard not so good stories about Brunei, and most, if not all of my friends say it's the most boring country on earth. The reason why i still wanted to go is because i want to prove everybody wrong. I haven't set foot in this country, so i want to know the real answer myself. Of course, when 10 out of 10 people agree, then it must be true. 

I slept that night at the airport. Yes. I did. I still have some money with me to pay for a taxi, and book a room for the night. But i didn't. I arrived at the airport, and met about twenty Filipinos right away. Filipinos work in the airport, either as cleaning staff, concierge, store attendant, etc. And dare i say, the only saving grace of this country. I met this Filipino guy who was working on the night shift. He was the one who advised me not to check in at a hotel at the hour i arrived. "Trust me. There's nothing to do here", he said. Still not believing what he told me, i planned my next day rendezvous googling for places to see. Of course, there's not much apart from a couple of mosques and water villages. The airport has been under construction for years now. It's small but clean. Thanks to the Filipinos tirelessly sweeping the floors every few minutes to ensure that Brunei gets a good first impression from travelers.

I woke up the next day with still not a lot of people. Ha. Yes, there were passengers on stand by as most international flights to Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur leave early in the morning. I sat, and stared at people lining up, going to the terminal, and flying out of Brunei. This repeated for almost a hundred times until i finally said, i am going out to town. Another Filipino I met helped me store my backpack in the room. Now, with just a hand bag and my leather jacket with me, i finally went outside to get a feel of this country. Five minutes later, my cigarette not even finished, i went back inside. The heat of the day was scorching. It's unfathomable. I grabbed some breakfast and sat again. I was undecided to still pursue the trip to the city. But i managed like an addict, and totally killed myself going out to town. I met one Filipino who said that instead of riding a taxi, i could just totally wait for the public bus passing by the airport that ends up in the middle of the city. And so i did just that. I ran to ride the bus, where more than half of the passengers are Filipino. I paid the woman one Brunei dollar, and stared at the surroundings. It's not your typical South East Asian country where noise is astounding, surroundings arguably dirty, and the people always smiling. First impression of Brunei is that it's too hot for a normal person to handle. I found the people very stiff. The surroundings are clean, but then again, there's nothing outside of mosques.

When i arrived at the bus station, i went out for a cigarette break. It took me fifteen minutes to find a spot, where again, i didn't finish my cigarettes. I found that i could totally give up my smoking because the temperature in this side of the planet is unbearable.

Finally, i found a seat at the park adjacent to the water village. It's nice to see water, but i reckoned it helped to make the temperature even worse. The bridge was impeccably situated with a good view of the market that day. Every Friday, KG Kianggeh Open Air Market turns into a throbbing spot for locals to sell Malayan food, vegetable produce and fresh seafood. After battling the crowds, i arrived to a junction that goes back to the highway. By the Kampung Water Village, a couple of locals sell a trip on to the opposite side where hundreds of houses built on stilts can be found. I declined, although i know i could help these men by simply taking the underwhelming trip.

On the southern exit from the Jalan Cator bus station, one could walk to Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. It was beautiful but i didn't feel the need to stay too long. The picture above explains how every few seconds clicking the camera, i ran for shade. I was melting like cake in downtown Bandar and it was not a pretty sight. On the other hand, what's particularly nice about crossing the streets in Downtown Bandar is that the cars literally stop for you so you can pass by. I've never seen anything like it anywhere in Asia. This rule deserved a thumps up for me. The security guard by Sir Muda Omar Ali Saifuddin Park was also extra nice to me. He even pointed me to a good spot so i could take a decent photo. When i came back, after a few minutes of photo shoot, i said my thank you and moved on.  

Seeing Jollibee at Yayasan Shopping Mall was a dream. Eventually, i found myself inside lining up to place orders. However, i was told that they only allow take-outs as the Friday prayer was coming up in an hour. The reason why i wanted to dine in is to cool off. So i left the fast food chain, and decided to explore the mall instead. I found that most of the shops are starting to close. I just bought a couple of quirky magnets for home and decided to leave. At this point, i was breaking up into tiny molecules because of the gravity of the heat. I found a quiet spot by one of the parking lots and sat there for minutes contemplating where else i can go. For the first time in my adventurous life, i have given up. 

I am pretty sure Brunei is a terrific country to visit. But my personal experience, proved otherwise. I find it now painful to realize that this country so rich, could not afford more reasons for me stay. I look back with what my new Filipino friend said at the airport. He was right all along. I rode the bus an hour later, going back to the airport. I still had a couple more hours to spare, but i knew i was ready to say goodbye to Brunei forever. In a few years, i may decide to come back and explore the region closest to Borneo. Bandar Seri Begawan is totally out of the picture. I came back to the airport and started chatting again with the Filipinos. I've never met so many Filipinos at a given time. All of them talked to me like their long lost relative. They've been helpful from the minute I arrived until before i leave.

When the Royal Brunei Airlines counter was finally open, i fell in line and learned that i was a few kilograms overweight. I tried to argue that i flew from Bangkok with the same baggage but i was not fined. But since i wanted to leave the country already, i paid an unbelievable price of $20 for my excesses. When i was screened, i was told that i had to leave my deodorant. I told the man that it's almost finished, and definitely not the 100 ml maximum limit for liquid as per rule in any international airport. When i tried to explain that it's for personal hygiene, he walked up to me and became very angry. He told me, "do you want to leave or not?" He also added, "you don't smile at me, i am just doing my job.". I kept silent and walked away. I never bothered to argue because even if i did, he wouldn't understand me anyway. Of course, he was trained to be closed minded. He was right when he said he's doing his job. I wished i could have told him he's doing it the wrong way.

I went to find a seat as i wait for my flight to Manila, still thinking of my experiences in Bandar Seri Begawan. Surprisingly, i felt calm and at peace. It's good to be surrounded by happy Filipinos eagerly awaiting to leave Brunei for the Philippines. There's obviously something wrong with the picture. Just like the man who tried to hold me because of 10 ml deodorant, i didn't bother arguing. This goes out to the lady who fined me for excess baggage when i am just transiting in this country, i smiled and paid right away. 

To sum it all up, i will never talk about Brunei Darussalam after this blog post. I swear. There's no use arguing when the other ear is already closed, just like this country.

P.S. Want to know the icing in the cake? Royal Brunei Airlines lost my baggage. The luggage that has been tagged direct to Manila (MNL) was actually transported to Melbourne (MEL) by their staff. After almost a week of waiting, i finally got reunited with my bag, with no compensation. 

I arrived in Manila from my two-month backpacking trip across Malaysia, Nepal, Thailand and Brunei. It surely felt so good to be back HOME. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Travel Notes from Siam Ocean World, Bangkok, Thailand


I've always wanted to go to Siam Ocean World because it is one of the largest aquariums in the world. In the past, I've always taken this place for granted, pursuing more adventure outside the country's capital. So, when i had a chance two weeks ago, i immediately grabbed the opportunity. I was suppose to go here a day earlier and at night, but i stumbled upon a couple lost Filipinos outside Pratunam. With nothing much to do, i spent a few hours helping them get from point a to point b. I've always believed that this is the beauty of traveling. And when you see a fellow country men, the first instinct is to help them. Talking to them made me realize how i see places now so differently. I will tell you more about this in the coming days.

When we said goodbye, the aquarium is already closed. I went back to Rambuttri, my home in Bangkok for a few days. I spent the rest of the night, trying out local food and drinking beer to end this hot and steamy day in Bangkok. 

Siam Ocean World is located inside the Siam Paragon mall. To be exact, ride the escalator one level down to start your adventure. Honestly, i had no idea what to expect. I haven't been to an aquarium before, and it is only fitting that i am spending my last few days of this trip in an inspiring place. I just wanted to relax and spend a quiet afternoon oggling at marine life. 

I love the ocean so much. If you ask me, ocean or mountain? I know the answer already in a heart beat. While i was searching for places to go around Bangkok that I haven't been to yet before, Siam Ocean World was top on my list.

I paid the package which includes the trip inside the ocean world, free pop corn and soda, and the 5-D movie. I didn't do the behind the scenes and fish feeding tour which is supposed to be included in my ticket for the simple reason that i am not interested. Seeing marine life this close is an exhilarating experience. I've never seen such number of fish and corals. My absolute favorite was the experience seeing these flesh eating sharks circling around a human head figure made of rock because i doubt if ever i will see them in this lifetime. It helped that the soundtrack to the room was spot on. Ocean World now includes live penguins in one of the rooms. I've never seen a penguin in my life so that's a life-changing moment right there. In total, i think i spent about four hours inside because i was taking my time. With about two thousand photos, and hours of video footage, i think i spent my money wisely. Although the 5-D movie was anti-climactic, it still is a good time to sit back and enjoy the funny movie. 

If you will ask me if it's recommended, i would gladly say yes. Although i know kids will find this place extra-special, adults can find ways to spend time inside aquarium with delight. I sincerely wished my nephews were with me inside, as i know they will have a mind-blowing experience, too. 

Before i left, i spent an hour rummaging at the shopping section. I bought a total of five stuffed marine animals to give my nephews a souvenir of the place. This is the least that i could do to share my happiness. I miss my family. And i always pray that one day i can bring them all to my most favorite places in the world.

A few days after, i left Bangkok excited to see my family and eat familiar food again, but heart broken because i know i will miss the people i have met in this trip.

Of course, i will not end this trip without a bang. Sadly, i got so disappointed at the last leg of my journey that it made me realize one important thing. Sometimes, when people say do not go, you have to listen to them. There's a reason for that, of course. More of this story on my next post.

Kob Khun Krap, Bangkok!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Travel Notes from Bayoke Sky Tower, Bangkok, Thailand


It took me one whole day to get to where i am right now. I woke up feeling so relaxed and refreshed this day. I wanted to get out of Khao San Road the soonest possible time. Not because i didn't like the place. It was the birthplace of my Asian Escapade, for chrissake. I simply wanted to explore more places in Bangkok, those places i haven't visited in the past. After spending an absolute delight in the heart of Siam (my most favorite destination in Bangkok), i knew i wanted to end the night on top... of Bangkok. 

After a relaxing ciggie break outside Siam Paragon, i asked a couple of locals to point me where i could watch the city from a sky tower. They recommended that i head out for Bayoke Sky Tower. True enough, the view from the top was mind-blowing. True, there are more peaceful places to watch Bangkok from 80 floors up but all of these places are hard to reach, and you need more money to stay and relax. For example, one bar that i have checked is hidden along Sukhumvit Road, where prices for drinks almost equal to my breakfast, lunch and dinner for the day. What's worse is the place had awful reviews. It was a no-brainer for me to choose Bayoke Sky Tower.

To get to Bayoke Sky Tower from Siam Paragon is very straight-forward, albeit, a very long walk. And the walk wasn't a walk in the park, it was torture. The afternoon Bangkok heat that day was excruciating. I was wet in sweat. Finally, after passing by countless number of hotels, convention centers, bridges over the river, a dozen eateries, and too many shopping outlets, i reached my destination. I felt so disappointed seeing more than a dozen tourist buses filled with too many tourists. I can already foresee what it must be like on the tower. I can definitely see in the eyes of the tourists how tired they were, and these were all painful to see. The line was long to the ticket counter, and i almost backed out with a fear of being trapped with too many of these tourists. I told myself, i have come to far, and going back to where i was would be a stupid idea. So, i braved the crowd and fell in line. Less than fifteen minutes later, keeping my space in an elevator filled with ten camera toting tourists, and arguing with a concierge who've seen too many tourists that being polite is the least of her concerns, i have stepped on the rotating observatory deck of Bayoke. I came right in time. The view of the whole city from the top, as the sun is about to set, was one of the most peaceful moments of my trip. It's quite surreal to think that in just a matter of minutes, i can find solitude in the heart of one of the most chaotic cities on the planet. 

I paid a couple of hundred bahts to enter the tower but it was worth it. I just wished it could be cheaper for those not dining in the restaurant. The good news is that my ticket comes with one free drink at the bar. So while others were enjoying their beer, i ordered their most expensive mocktail.

Bayoke Sky Tower could have been one of my most favorite places in Bangkok, if only there were less tourists who know nothing but too shout, laugh, and chat in decibels as high as the tower. I understand that getting here is a happy experience, and sharing precious moments with loved ones can be overwhelming. But always remember, you're sharing moments with strangers, too. It's a public space, not your bedroom. These strangers may want a quiet time, and are definitely not interested in whatever you're doing. It's called sensitivity, and these tourists ( i don't want to mention the nationality but i guess you know already), surely don't have it. 

After spending three hours on top (could have been six), i finally left. Minutes after, i was back on the ground, with noises from honking motorcycles, merchants bartering with tourists, and a whole lot noise pollution. It became clear to me, i was lucky to be on the ground. At least, the noises here unstoppable. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Prayer for Japan

A new beginning for Japan
REPOSTED IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO PERISHED DURING THE 2011 JAPAN TSUNAMI AND EARTHQUAKE

The colors of the autumn leaves are enough to leave me a lasting impression how wonderful it is to wander around Kansai. 

Five days ago, the news broke out of a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in North East Japan. Soon after, Japan NHK TV reported a major tsunami swept away cars, trucks and houses in Onahama City in Fukushima Prefecture.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Reaching the Stars at Rembrandt Hotel, Quezon City, Philippines


STORY: After graduating from the oldest university in Asia, a few months have passed and i got a call to work at the number one television network in the Philippines. For almost four years, i have spent a great deal of my time in the vicinity where the network is located, looking for places where i can have a quiet time for myself to have a date with my laptop. I was writing for TV shows, then. I went to several restaurants, cafes and hotels.

I've already stayed at Hotel Rembrandt before. I would remember reserving a table at the lobby, ordering snacks and typing away the coming week's plot. I would fondly remember my time there, and rushing to print the sequences and present it to the whole production team soon after. I am pretty sure, i even went there to meet with my bosses, hoping for an approval for a plot for an upcoming show. So, to say that Hotel Rembrandt was memorable for me, would be the truth.

When i was invited to go back and experience the hotel once more, i gladly said yes right away. After my stint at Abs-Cbn years ago, going back to the same places where i used to go was something i fancy doing. There's a nostalgia to it, and it's good to reminisce good times with good friends like Christian of Lakad Pilipinas,  Carla of Blissful Guro and Julius of Lakwatserong Tsinelas, which made this particular experience worthwhile. Darwin of Tracking Treasure was late coming from work, but i was glad he could join us for the over night rendezvous. Ron of FlipTravels was also there to spend the night with us, all the way from Singapore. 

I have lived in Quezon City all my life, and going to Rembrandt Hotel is only but a 15 minute ride away. Obviously in love with Quezon City, i reckon the city is a good place to base yourself when you're in Manila. So when you're at the city of stars, it's only rightful to stay at a hotel nearest to the stars. Hotel Rembrandt is only less than a minute walk from the entrance gate of Abs-Cbn. If you fancy seeing your favorite showbiz royalties, you know you'll have a good view from here.


When i arrived at the hotel, the security staff opened the door right away. Not many people know that when you're staying at a hotel, the door should be opened for you all the time. This is common courtesy of the hotel staff for its guests. I knew this was a good sign of things to come. I got a seat right away at the lobby. Christian, Carla and Julius were all there happy. We only get to see each other once every few weeks, so it's always special seeing them again and again.


The Lobby
Hotel Rembrandt changed a lot for the better. It was already beautiful then, but now they are living up to the expectations of affordable grandeur. The windows were shrugged with draped curtains and glass blocks have been added to attract more light. There were already a couple of guests sitting, and the lobby is fully staffed so orders are fast. There were a couple of beautiful women dressed to impressed so that made my afternoon more exciting. Later on, i would find out that a wedding is coming right up. It seems Hotel Rembrandt is a popular choice for weddings and debuts, and it is rightfully so. 



As we approach dinner, little by little, the food got served at the buffet table. What's extra charming is the brilliant pianist keeping us company with his lovely music. After traveling for a couple of months overseas, the smell of fresh peanuts roasting on the Kare-Kare caught my attention right away. 



Then, the carefully placed plate of sashimi and sushi were all a sight to behold. The other popular dishes were served: chicken with gravy, chapsuey, beef with broccoli and fish fillet. The desserts were equally sumptuous. I've never had that much sweets in one seating. The cupcakes and pastries were all delicious.



I tried them all, and i am glad i did. Over-all, the dinner is one of the best I've had in my life. And it was truly relaxing to listen to great music again, and enjoy a good meal with the company of good friends.


The Executive Room
We were billeted on a two bed room suite. It was huge and airy, and more than enough for the four of us. The sheets were fresh, and the duvet was super comfortable. It also had a nice view of the surrounding streets, so it was easy to check where the party is at. Of course, i need not look elsewhere as the party is at Hotel Rembrandt in our room. A crazy amount of time was spent there just chatting about our previous travel experiences and plans for the future. We ordered a couple of beers and gulped each one as we laugh from night till the morning. It didn't end there, as we bought some more and finished till dawn.

The Malt Room
If we only had more energy to spare, we could have checked out the malt room where an array of premium liquor and crafted malt is on display. I fancy a few hours lounging there, and we could brew some more travel plans in the future. No worries as i am pretty sure i will be coming back here soon. 

Vida Verde Spa
A day at a spa is one of Carla's personal favorite things to do. So, she requested an hour session with a brilliant therapist. The morning was spent absolutely nothing, which i love. We watched cable television, ordered a couple more drinks, and just relaxed in the room. When she came back, I've never seen her so rejuvenated. After days of teaching in school, she deserved the queenly treatment at the spa. To all the women, read up and enjoy the Vida Verde Spa.

As mentioned earlier, Hotel Rembrandt is the place to stay for celebrity spotting. The night before, i was on an elevator with Julius coming from our beer shopping when we chanced upon seeing this celebrity. It was weird seeing this person up close, when we only see him every night during dinner. 


I went home that day embracing the torrential rains in Quezon City. I was drenched wet, but still smiling. I've had  a very good sleep, a delicious dinner and breakfast, and lovely chat with my really good friends inside one of the most comfortable hotels I've ever stayed in the city. Smile!

Rembrandt Hotel
Address: 26 Tomas Morato Ext. 1104 Quezon City
Phone Number: +632373333 Loc. 201-205
E-mail Address: rsvn.hotelrembrandt@ahmgi.com
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/hotelrembrandt

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Travel Notes from Kathmandu, Nepal - Bangkok, Thailand


I wanted to turn back time. If only i could have a couple more days to extend, i would. Nepal is such a great country to travel to. And as i type this in the comforts of my home here in the Philippines, i recall the fantastic moments of my last few days in the country.

I remember waking up really early on my last day. I knew i would not be spending another day, but only a few hours in Kathmandu. I went up to have my favorite special breakfast at the roof top of Kathmandu City Hotel. I talked to the waiters and cooks who work tirelessly to ensure i have something to eat first thing in the morning. I told myself i will never leave without us having a photo opportunity. To Shree Krishna, much appreciate bro the excellent service. Others may don't like the idea posing in front of the camera, i'd like to think otherwise. When you've traveled a thousand miles away from home, and meet the most beautiful people, i reckon you would do the same.

I left Philippines with two bags, i am leaving Nepal with five. As i went to the bank with Shiva to pay for my accommodations, i checked out a couple more shops to buy another bag so i don't end up having too many bags. I would rather have one oversize bag so as to ensure i don't lose them. Before i left, i said goodbye to Lamsal, Shiva and Ramhari. Lamsal gave me a Kata, which is a traditional Tibetan scarf given to guests during departure to ensure a safe voyage. Shiva vowed to connect with me on Facebook so i can meet my future wife. I kept the Kata with me, and waved my last goodbye to the awesome people of Kathmandu City Hotel. 

I rode the taxi going to the airport, and yet meeting kind Nepalese people never ends. My driver was friendly and honest. Again, the usual conversation piece of Jerik Gurung re-appears. And the thirty minute ride to the airport was hassle-free and a whole lot of fun. I arrived at the airport and smoked my Surya for the very last time. The line going inside the departure terminal was less manic than my last time. With a couple of foreigners snaking their way to get ahead, i stayed put. What's the worse that couple happen, not making in time for my flight? So be it. I have learned to accept the worst and welcome the best in Nepal. Staying for a few more days would be a delight for me. Sadly, I made it in time. Even though, i fell in a line that never seem to move. Many local people come meet their friends who're in line so they get in line, too. I've learned to accept that in any transportation hub in the country. Falling in line is only a suggestion in Nepal. 

I weighed my bag at the check-in counter, and realized i was still a few more kilos overweight so i had to take out some stuff from my check in. I always fly Thai Airways leaving Kathmandu because at economy i get 30 kilos check-in baggage. Remind me to fly Thai Airways again, this time going to Nepal.

I was seated on the left side of the plane but not on the window seat. I picked this seat because i wanted to check out the view of Everest for the very last time, hoping the passenger on the window side is kind enough to let me take photos. Good thing, i was a seated to an old chap from Melbourne. And instead of watching a film on the 7 inch screen, we talked about his girlfriend from Kathmandu, the bar he works in Melbourne, and his few hours transit in Bangkok, all this while we were enjoying our food. Once in a while, i would capture a couple stills of the himalayas. 

It didn't take long before i arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport. After the three hour flight, that was the only realization point that i have already left Nepal -- my favorite country in the world. Let it be known here, Thailand is one of my personal favorite countries in South East Asia. Having visited the country more than seven times now, i feel relaxed because i know may way around Bangkok.

The only thing i have forgotten to do was to exchange my Nepali Rupee to US Dollar. I have about ten thousand with me, and it was regretful that when i arrived in Bangkok, no bank would like to exchange my money. Up until now, i have no idea why. I remember exchanging my rupees last year at the very same airport.

As i pick up my baggage, i was left with a very crucial decision. I relatively had no money with me, at the start of my almost a week long trip to Bangkok and then to Bandar Seri Begawan, tired and hungry. I phoned home and asked for help. I left my baggage to keep and sprinted my way to Paya Thai via the city train. It only takes less than an hour, and 45 Baht to get to the stop. From there, i rode a tuk-tuk for 100 rupees. Last year, i rode a motorcycle paying the same amount. It's already a bargain, considering i am in Thailand already, and the Thai tuk-tuk drivers are the most aggressive in the world. I chanced upon a very quiet yet honest uncle to bring me to Khao San Road safely. Of course, I've had enough of the infamous street but i liked the location's convenience. I roamed around Rambuttri and checked in at a hotel called ViengTai. It's my most expensive stay yet after two months, but for the night, i wasn't hesitant at all. What helped me decide to stay is the staff whom i talked to; one spoke Filipino and the other guy was very helpful. I had a few hundred bahts with me which i spent eating barbecue on the road side while enjoying beer. 

It was a very long day, and a good sleep was something i was looking forward to doing since i arrived at the airport. I woke up the next day well-rested, and hungry. Good thing, i had buffet breakfast waiting for me at the lobby. After eating a ridiculous amount of pancakes and fruits, i was off to check the pool. It was a bit of a maze finding where it is actually. But discovering no noisy farang in sight made my morning extra wonderful. That's when i realized, i was staying at a fancy hotel. Having spent a lot of time in Khao San Road in the past seven years and staying at the seediest places, it felt weird that i had this bit of luxury, now when i don't have enough cash with me. 

After a good shower, and putting a fresh set of clothing, i found myself walking around Khao San. A few minutes later, i was already drenched in sweat. I manned up and walked until i reached the junction towards National Stadium. The humid afternoon of Bangkok totally killed me, so a tuk-tuk ride again was necessary. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Travel Notes from Garden of Dreams, Kathmandu, Nepal


I can't believe two months passed by so quickly. When i first arrived in Nepal a year ago, i knew i would be coming back again and again in this country. So it was not surprising that after the new year celebration in Manila, i was on transit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia bound for Kathmandu, Nepal. I still had the same guide book with me, which i bought for only 500 rupees at Pilgrims Bookstore in Thamel. A week ago, i learned of the unfortunate fire accident that affected a couple more stores beside the infamous book shop. Nepal didn't change a thing. It's still the same old country that i fell in love with. It's sharp contradiction to big, first world countries is one of the reasons why i love this country so much. I've written about the awful air pollution, the dirty alleys filled with so many things you will cringe seeing back at home, the unfathomable discipline of the people falling in line at entrances and bus parks. Yet, i have accepted everything there is to hate in this country. So, i guess this is love, huh?

I lied down at one of the cushions inside the Garden of Dreams in nearby Thamel. I paid 200 rupees to get inside, one of the few tickets i needed to pay in this country. I lied in there, away from the hustle and bustle of manic Thamel. It was quiet, more often weird to think that only minutes away, i was almost hit by a taxi cab. Not that its his fault, because he has no more space to drive around in. I thought i've never seen so many couples in one day. There's too many love birds expressing their love for each other. It's always inspiring to see love flourish. Earlier while i was looking for the toilet, i chanced upon a young couple kissing so passionately, i felt embarrassed for interrupting them. Valentine's Day passed by me nonchalantly.  I was walking around Kathmandu last February 14th. While 90% of the people I've seen were all in the company of their loved ones,i was there enjoying my steak at a fancy cafe. There are moments when i feel lonely in Nepal, without another hand to hold, or a warm body to embrace. But all were just some passing thought. I never felt sad because i was on a very long engagement with this country.

I spent about three hours inside the park. I've seen so many couples come and go, but i never left. I always thought that these moments do last forever. And in a year or two, i will always remember these instances, so precious and dear to my heart. 

Garden of Dreams is probably the most beautiful park I've ever seen. It's not too big, and not too crowded. It's very relaxing and convenient to go to. The park opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. I was there before dusk. 

It's hard to grasp how i felt there. At one point, i felt happy and relieved that my adventurous trip to the mountains is over. And falling on a cliff or in a gorge is all but a bad dream. But at the same time, i felt sad that i am a day away from leaving Nepal. But during my quiet contemplation here, i realized it's okay to be sad. Who on earth would be happy knowing this journey of mine is already coming to an end? Nobody. I will be back to Nepal for sure. I've kept my promise once. Hell, i can keep one more. 

Later that day, i went back to buy stuff for my family. I've bought a couple of shirts, accessories, and a handful of trinkets. I went back to the same shop by the junction to buy stuff for the home. Days ago, i met this young man in the shop. I've told him about my trip last year, and how i bought so many stuff for the home. This year, i came back to get some more. I promised him i will be back before i leave. After negotiating a good price for a ceramic brass plate, a couple of masks, carved wooden boxes, and a lot more Hindu signages, i thanked the manager for a good transaction. I saw the young man again, and showed my shopping bag. His smile was from ear to ear. I came back to my hotel, and saw Shiva. We enjoyed the dinner of Dahl Bat. So by this time, i could assume the saying Dahl Bat 24 hour Power. 

It was not a tearful night as i suspected. More so, it felt like i was going on a vacation. It felt weird that i felt like going on a short trip wherein fact i will be coming back home to the Philippines. Yet, i take everything in stride. This is how i felt, so be it. 

He then asked me one important question that i almost forgot all this time. Shiva in his usual curious face, "How many kilos do you have for check in baggage?".

Completely stuck with the words... kilos and baggage. I said to myself, "Oh,no!".